Ukrainian Armored Infantry Assault: Analysis
My intent today is to analyze this video of an armored infantry assault by Ukrainian troops, posted below from Telegram. As usual, there is no context to this video, we see what we see. It does appear from the leafy trees or bushes that are seen in the initial part of the video (when the ramp initially drops) that this may well be footage from the summer offensive. There are no leaves on any trees later in the video, but perhaps that is because the trees have been destroyed by artillery fire in no-mans land. I will make assumptions about what is happening, allowing me to comment on what appears to be the bigger picture beyond the action being filmed.
Update: I was just informed that this footage happened in February, in the Avdeevka area.
Comments from the interpreter, who has subtitled the video:
I am confident I translated it mostly correctly, also there are few moments where I am not sure:
1. There is a lot of noise, screams and confusion sometimes, very hard to understand who exactly said what.
2. They speak mix of Russian and Ukrainian. Very common for Ukrainian side. Occasionally they use words and phrases that I do not understand.
3. I am sure they refer their vehicles as TM, but I never heard this term before.
4. Who is Kapter? At 02:21 the video operator calls someone on the radio “Bars, Bars, this is Kapter”
At 02:50 they discuss that Kapter is either dead or rode away.
Then the video operator calls Bars again using Kapter callsign.
Looks like that at 03:27 they linked up with Kapter.
Could be that Kapter is a team lead, and the operator is his radio man, and the operator is using team lead’s callsign when calling higher up? I do not know.
5. At 03:12 the wounded man literally said “two cartridges” – два патрона instead “two bullets” – две пули.
The two vehicles which are seen in the video appear to be Dutch YPR-765’s, based on the M113 and modified. These are ‘armored personnel carriers’ (APC’s), to be distinguished from Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV’s). The difference being that an IFV has more powerful armament (i.e. some form of cannon), whereas an APC usually has a machine gun mounted on top. Thus, an IFV is more usually used as part of an armored infantry assault in combination with tanks, whereas an APC is designed to protect infantry as they are moved around the battlefield from small arms fire and shrapnel. It should ne noted that Wikipedia does state that the YPR-765 is an IFV, but in Dutch service it is shown with more powerful armament, whereas these vehicles in Ukrainian service seem more like a standard M113. Debatable point!
It should be noted that on the back of the YPR-765 there are two doors. There is the main ramp that drops down and is operated by the vehicle crew. Inside that door is a ‘personnel’ door that is integral to the main ramp but has left hand hinges and is smaller. You will see both these doors being used in the video.
Timeline of the video:
0:06: The ramp on the rear of the vehicle drops. There is an issue with the angle of the AFV towards the Russian trenches because the troops in the back immediately come under small arms fire. Sort of reminiscent of the landing craft scene in Saving Private Ryan! The vehicle seems to be reversing as the door drops and this is where you can see the leafy tree or bush branches. From personal experience (Iraq) I recall an issue with an armored vehicle parked with the rear door towards the threat, resulting in a KIA. Lessons were learned.
0:21: The APC continues to receive fire and you can see the sparks inside from an impacting round or ricochet. People are being hit.
0:25: It takes them this long to get the word to the crew to close the ramp.
0:36: At least two of the troops in the back are ‘300’ i.e. wounded.
0:41: The vehicle continues to move and here you can see the sparks from an impact. I have seen reports that this was the APC hitting a mine, or it could be an impact from either an FPV drone, or maybe an ATGM strike. Either way, the vehicle is hit and stops. Chaos ensues.
0:48: The troops in the back are getting out of the stopped vehicle. They may have thrown the wounded out first. It is notable that they are exiting the vehicle through the personnel door, and this may be because the vehicle crew is incapacitated and cannot operate the ramp. You can see the side of the personnel door is still taking impacts from small arms fire (0:50).
1:08: The second (passing) AFV (marked 110) appears to get struck on the near side by something. There is no explosion, so not likely an ATGM or FPV drone. Possibly a heavy caliber projectile, such as a 12.7mm? It appears that the vehicle is simultaneously rocked, but perhaps that is due to the track dropping away?
1:17: It is hard to get situational awareness on where the Russian position is (tree line?) Everyone is taking cover against the bank facing right of screen, so it may be that the Russians are to the right of screen? If so, after getting hit the AFV 110 turns away from the enemy and presents its back door towards the Russians, and later drives of to the right (i.e. away from the Russians), likely towards Ukrainian lines, without dropping its load of troops.
1:30: The soldier filming runs out into the open towards AFV 110. He seems intent on getting them to open the door (facing towards the Russians?), it seems so he can load his guys and bug out, but the crew declares that they already have a full load.
1:25: Off screen left, there is a large impact on or close to the original AFV. This could be an impact from an ATGM, or perhaps a guided artillery round. This appears to finish off the original AFV and it is seems to be smoking / on fire throughout the rest of the video. Shortly after this, AFV 110 declarers it is full, and drives off to the rear.
1:54: The second soldier runs over to join the guy with the video camera. He appears to be unarmed and declares that he is wounded. This is the guy who is hit by two rounds. Prior to the conversation about “Kapter’ the two of them discuss what direction to go in, where they are, where is the way back, etc.
2:24: We see two Ukrainians dragging off a casualty. Then we have the comment: “What an assault, right?” They comment that they don’t know what tree line is what, etc. The whole thing is a nightmare. The only thing going for them is the gully they have managed to take cover in. You can hear the Russian rounds cracking overhead. It is possible that they could use this gully to extract themselves from no-mans land, depending on how it maps out. They will also have to worry about being targeted in the gully by FPV drones (First Person View – carrying explosives suicide drones) or indirect fire. Movement is life!
The bottom line is, this is total incompetence, and not necessarily on the part of the soldiers who are in the video. This is a serious command issue. It is criminal. You have basically got troops on an AFV, dropped in the middle of no-mans land and deserted, with no idea where they are or where they are supposed to be going. I dread what happens to them next!
Here is the problem with the concept of an armored infantry assault in the context of Ukraine: the battlefield is like Word War I trenches, but with drones! This causes huge problems for any assaulting force because as they mass for the assault they will be picked up by drone surveillance. There is no place to hide, they have to mass to assault the front line. The front line is very long, but it is under surveillance, which allows the Russians to move assets to defend it once they pick up Ukrainians via surveillance. It also consists of three defensive lines, and the Russians are quite willing to give up the first defense line to absorb the mass of an assault, later counterattacking to recapture it. They also have an edge in fires i.e. artillery / indirect fire, which results in the landscape as seen in the video, where the trees are pulverized. The ground itself is not only mostly flat i.e. the steppe, but it is also crisscrossed by tree lines, which is of course where people will locate their positions. I have seen this terrain described as similar to the bocage of Normandy, but of course the bocage has more relief.
I have also seen the reports of Ukrainian ‘meat assaults’ which have been used to discredit the use of infantry in this theatre. Where this may be a ‘meat assault’ is as a result of the drone surveillance where mass (concentration of force) has been discouraged in favor of small ‘penny packets’ in the assault. Such as in this video where it appears to only be two troop loads of AFV’s in the assault. This is nuts. You could also use the same argument against armor, where so much armor has been destroyed. In the SMO, we see heavy casualties both with dismounted infantry and armored vehicles. This cannot be used as an argument that (in this theatre) any of these are now antiquated and of no more use. On the Russian side, it is dismounted infantry who are holding the defensive line and also making successful assaults on Ukrainian trench lines and bunkers. This will happen with and without armored support, but mostly with. The surveillance situation and length of the front line pushes for dispersal of assets. This is a combination of the FPV drone and artillery threat, along with the sheer length of the front line that must be defended. A saying is that “he who defends everywhere defends nowhere” and this is applicable to the front line situation in the SMO. As such, with limited assets on the Russian side, the way to defend it is to utilize surveillance to trigger reserves to bolster the defense if the Ukrainians are mounting an assault on a particular area. This is why the comic book level reporting on events ion the SMO completely misses the point: the Russians will lose the front line trench system, or be forced to withdraw, until they can bring in sufficient reserves to counter attack.
So you have a conundrum, between dispersal of troops (because of constant surveillance) versus the requirement to concentrate force in order to have an effect on the enemy. What is missing here is effective suppression of the enemy. If you can’t achieve that, then you have no business in the assault and you are sending guys into the meat grinder. I do notice the news about Ukraine not having enough shells, but then again if they were to use them in combat and not shelling Donetsk and other civilian areas, maybe they could have more of an effect? I’ll put the sarcasm back in the box.
So we have noted that surprise is hard to achieve in the heavily surveilled front line areas. As you mass your troops and vehicles to the rear, they will be picked up by drones. It may still be possible to achieve tactical surprise. But how should an armored infantry assault work? It can be seen from the video that if you are riding in an armored vehicle you are stuck in the back and have no situational awareness when you get out of the vehicle. The crew should be able to help you with that by calling out directions. A simple way of achieving this is to rehearse the assault with the vehicles bow on the the enemy position. This will also prevent fire getting into the back of an open ramp, while presenting the most armored part of the vehicle (the front) to the enemy. An assault should look something along the lines of: A tank platoon or company providing initial fire support, then pulling off to a flank to continue that fire support, with another group of tanks providing intimate support to the assaulting vehicles. The AFV or IFV’s will drive all the way onto the enemy position, utilizing mounted weapons systems to continue the suppression, and stop bow towards then enemy while disgorging troops right onto the enemy position, at least no more than 100 yards away from it. Once the troops are out and assaulting, the AFV’s can maneuver while continuing to provide fire support. We have seen similar assaults conducted by the Russians where they have assaulted tree lines and trench lines in a similar fashion.
How would that work? We know that the Russian lines are heavily mined and surveilled, with artillery covering defensive fire and final protective fire coordinates, that will come under fire from artillery in depth, spotted by drones, even if the defensive lines themselves are suppressed by Ukrainian artillery fire. Best plan I would have is to choose a spot that is not mined up the wazoo (the defensive lines are about 1200 miles long, lots of options), go at night and / or in bad weather, use surveillance by Ukrainian drones in order to flash suppress the Russian lines, and mass in echelon to make a difference in the assault. Hit the first line, then echelon through with subsequent attacking groups in order to take the second and third lines. Would there be serious casualties on both sides? Yep. The Ukrainians would have to get through the mine belt, through the artillery and ATGM fire, and onto the first defensive line. There would need to be a high level of training and professional competence to pull this off, which the Ukrainians don’t have. They probably don’t have the level of coordination and staff planning to make this happen, as well as a poorly trained conscripted, or forcefully conscripted, army.
On that note, I have noticed a couple of things. Firstly, both Russians and Ukrainians saying that ‘NATO training’ doesn’t work. Of course it doesn’t, if you provide untrained infantry and have a rubbish level of training standards. I have also noticed that nobody has done any ‘big arrow’ type maneuver. That is legitimate, with the surveillance of the battlefield and the amount of anti-armor weapons that are available, it doesn’t make sense in the context of the SMO. This is why the Russians have gone for small moves and maximum attrition, bleeding the Ukrainian army dry.
“Train how you fight.” This is exactly what the Ukrainians are doing, and why they are throwing away untrained conscripts in failed assaults that never really had a chance in the first place. “Till the last Ukrainian” is exactly what they are doing. For the Ukrainians, it is way to late to solve any of this problem, because they have already lost the best of their troops. If it wasn’t too late for them, I would suggest pulling away from the current defensive lines (or leaving a defensive force in place), and going into a training cycle to teach the armored infantry formations the correct way to conduct the assault, which would give them a fighting chance on the battlefield. Also, if they were to pull back, and force the Russians to move forward, there is a chance that the newly established Russian defensive lines may not be as strong as they currently are, allowing a better chance of a breach.